Veg-Centric Dinner Series at ROÌA in New Haven: Heirloom Tomatoes

Hope Simmons

Up the steps off the city streets of New Haven, you may feel transported to another time and place. A space that somehow manages to feel elegant, yet contemporary and welcoming at the same time. This could only be ROÌA, where its elaborate high ceilings and attention to a bygone era’s architectural detail make a striking first impression. But they only set the stage for you to be further impressed with the sights and flavors about to arrive at the table.

CTbites first visited ROÌA for its grand opening back in 2013—grand being a most fitting descriptor. We were thrilled to return and experience a dinner featuring summer’s bounty of the local heirloom tomato, in one interesting configuration after another. And just one in the “veg-centric dinner series” Chef Avi Szapiro has offered since last year, when they first showcased asparagus, followed by summer squash, then tomato.

“I had the good fortune of working with people who were very dedicated to the practice of sourcing local, sourcing great ingredients, working with farmers and growers,” Avi explains of his culinary background. “There was a lot of the Chez Panisse philosophy, which had a lot to do with what’s in season—and let that be the guide. Working with the seasons and local farmers and producers has been very important to us. And continues to be.”

From his native Colombia to Paris, London, and a year and a half in India where he cooked vegetarian, Chef Avi fully understands and embraces the power of food. “When we respect and take food in a conscious way, it can be beneficial, healing and transformative. Not to focus strictly on taste, but what is food doing for us? How does that support your body?”

“You bring people together with good food at the table, I think it has great potential. It creates dialogue, it nurtures people because there’s love in the food. Food definitely becomes a vehicle of nurturing, and nurturing is a quality of love.”

The night I was invited, I heard a group exclaim happy birthday as a surprise celebration took place upstairs in the private dining balcony. After the initial burst of excitement, the evening went right back to the usual hum of other diners simply enjoying their company and meals.

Salad of heirloom tomatoes, burrata, eggplant puréeThe creamy eggplant purée and rich burrata was pleasantly accented by fresh tomatoes. The dish was complemented very nicely with a bubbly, light and dry Prosecco.

Tomato and rose water consommé, hamachi and sous vide cherry tomatoesThe pairing of delicate tomato-rose water with tender, fresh hamachi was so perfect in and of itself, I almost wished there were no additional tomatoes in this course at all. A quite excellent and unexpected combination, it was served with a tart and mineral Domaine de Pallus “Messanges” Chinon Rosé.

Homemade tajarin, smoked tomatoes, sea urchinThe Tenuta delle Terre Nerre Etna Rosso paired beautifully with the smokiness of the tomatoes; the buttery, Piedmont style, egg-based pasta and the brininess of the sea urchin. Though smoke was the first aroma I detected when the dish arrived, it was well-balanced with the other components.

Grilled Walden Hill pork loin, tomatoes three ways: relish, butter, friedThe sweetness of grilled corn relish perfectly accompanied Walden Hill’s acorn-fed pork. Crispy outside, tender and juicy within, with a bit of crunch from the accompanying fried tomato, accented by tiny basil microgreens, this was truly a knockout dish. And then, two words: tomato butter. Where have you been all my life? I jotted down multiple exclamation points throughout my notes on this course and savored every bite. This course was expertly paired with Le Monde Cabernet Franc 2014, Fruili-Venezia Giulia.

The meal came to a close with a smooth, lemon verbena-scented panna cotta, topped with the natural sweetness of summer Sun Gold tomatoes in a unique, delectable jam form. Paired with a fizzy, pink, almost citrusy, but not too sweet, Pattrick Bottex “La Cueille” Bugey Cerdon Rosé, it was the stuff dessert dreams are made of. And it’s been on my mind ever since.

The next vegetable-centric dinner will focus on squash: delicata, pumpkin, butternut—the gourd squash family. Tentatively scheduled for October 13-15, the actual date will strongly depend on what’s going on with the farmers in terms of the squash production. “I love squashes, they are dedicated unsung heroes in many gardens, so we will be highlighting them for our next veg-centric dinner."

ROÌA is located at 261 College Street in New Haven, CT.

(203) 200-7045

Neither CTbites nor the author were compensated for this review; the meal was provided without charge. The opinions contained herein are solely those of the author.